Gay What ?
Rest of site back up shortly!

Anti-gay forces changing tactics on marriage

Brian Brown, National Organization for Marriage, gay news, gay politics dc

NOM President Brian Brown criticized Eric Holder’s extension of rights to same-sex couples. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Move over Federal Marriage Amendment: anti-gay forces are focusing on new ways to halt the advancement of marriage equality — and are already seeing some success at the state level.

As more states legalize same-sex marriage and efforts to pass a U.S. constitutional amendment prohibiting it have faded, the focus has shifted to containing federal recognition to marriage equality states and to advancing religious exemption bills allowing for discrimination against same-sex couples.

Outrage prompting calls for these measures was seen just last weekend when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced he would extend federal recognition of same-sex marriages to programs under the Justice Department’s purview.

The changes were intended to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year against the Defense of Marriage Act. Among other things, they would allow married same-sex couples to file jointly for bankruptcy. In addition, spouses won’t be forced to testify against each other.

Mainstream and conservative media outlets jumped on the development — the Washington Post called the change “sweeping” — while anti-gay groups expressed outrage over Holder’s extension of these rights to same-sex couples in states without marriage equality.

Brian Brown, president of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, said Holder’s decision was the latest in a series of moves that “undermine the authority and sovereignty of the states” with respect to marriage.

“The American public needs to realize how egregious and how dangerous these usurpations are and how far-reaching the implications can be,” Brown said. “The changes being proposed here to a process as universally relevant as the criminal justice system serve as a potent reminder of why it is simply a lie to say that redefining marriage doesn’t affect everyone in society.”

To limit federal recognition of same-sex marriages to marriage-equality states, anti-gay groups are championing legislation in the U.S. House known as the State Marriage Defense Act, which would prohibit the federal government from recognizing a same-sex marriage in a state that doesn’t allow gay nuptials.

Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay Family Research Council, voiced support for the State Marriage Defense Act immediately after Holder’s announcement.

“Attorney General Holder’ s announcement — like his recognition of same-sex ‘marriages’ in Utah despite the Supreme Court granting a stay of the District Court decision overturning that state’s definition of marriage — illustrates the importance of congressional action to pass the State Marriage Defense Act (H.R. 3829), introduced by Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas),” Perkins said.

Neither the Family Research Council nor the National Organization for Marriage responded to the Washington Blade’s requests to comment on whether calls for this legislation represented a shift in focus away from the Federal Marriage Amendment.

Religious exemption measures emerge

Meanwhile, at the state level, new initiatives are emerging to establish carve-outs to civil rights and marriage equality laws to enable individuals or businesses to discriminate against LGBT people and their marriages on religious grounds.

One such initiative underway in Oregon is concurrent with Oregon United for Marriage’s work to bring the issue of marriage equality to voters on Election Day this year. Anti-gay groups are working to place on the ballot at the same time a measure to allow florists, bakers and other businesses to refuse to participate in these weddings on religious grounds.

Although it’s illegal in Oregon to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, the proposal would enable such business to discriminate against gay couples. To qualify for the ballot, anti-gay groups must submit 116,284 valid signatures of Oregon residents by July 3.

Mike Marshall, Oregon United for Marriage’s campaign manager, told the Washington Blade the religious exemption ballot initiative is a big fear because it could have an impact on the marriage equality campaign.

“The other side knows that when we shift the debate away from love and commitment to protecting religious freedom that you see support go down for marriage three to four percent, and that’s within the margin of victory for us,” Marshall said. “Instead of putting their resources into defeating our campaign, they’re creating a second campaign to shift the focus of the debate, and by doing that, at least carve some level of discrimination that they engage in.”

Marshall said if the religious exemption measure passes, the LGBT community would be faced with similar measures in every state over the next 10 years.

Religious exemption measures are becoming more common in state legislatures. In Kansas, the state legislature approved on Wednesday by 72-49 vote a bill that would allow state residents to refuse services to gay couples related to same-sex weddings. In Arizona, a House committee approved a broad religious freedom bill to allow individuals and the businesses they own to refuse to provide services based on their religious beliefs.

Similar measures have popped up in Idaho, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma and Maine (although the Maine measure was recently voted down in committee). Measures specifically allowing discrimination against same-sex marriage and gay people, likes the ones in Oregon and Kansas, have come up in South Dakota.

Sarah Warbelow, state legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign, said passage of the bills could cause problems, such as allowing a county clerk to refuse to grant a marriage license.

“The state would still have to find someone to fill in, but it could make it more cumbersome for same-sex couples, not to mention hugely embarrassing,” Warbelow said. “No one should have to stand in line on the penultimate day of their marriage relationship only to find they have to go through a series of county clerks, one after another.”

The religious exemption measures aren’t exclusively found in the states. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) in the U.S. House and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the Senate have introduced legislation known as the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, which would prohibit the federal government from discriminating against organizations that exercise “religious conscience” against same-sex marriage.

Raúl Rafael Labrador, Raul Labrador, Idaho, United States House of Representatives, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Raúl Rafael Labrador (R-Idaho) has introduced the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rose Saxe, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project, said they’re meant to enable discrimination against gay couples seeking to wed in the states at a later point in time in anticipation of that ruling.

“But the ones that are explicitly anti-gay, we see those as as sort of ‘Plan B’ from the other side in the sense that they see marriage is coming and they’re trying to ensure that even in states where we don’t yet have marriage or robust non-discrimination laws that can preemptively enshrine the right to discriminate,” Saxe said.

Isolated anti-gay incidents driving new tactics

Movement on these bills comes in the aftermath of isolated situations where business owners were accused of acting wrongfully by refusing services for same-sex weddings.

One prominent such incident took place in Colorado, where a judge in December determined a Lakewood bakery known as Masterpiece Cakeshop acted unlawfully by refusing to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple.

A similar incident occurred in Washington State, where Arlene’s Flowers owner Baronelle Stutzma refused to sell flowers to a gay couple and is now facing a lawsuit from the state and couple’s attorney. In Vermont, a resort that was sued in 2011 for refusing to host a lesbian couple’s wedding reception agreed to settle by paying $30,000 in damages.

In addition to invoking the wrath of anti-gay groups, these situations sparked concerns among libertarian-minded supporters of LGBT rights on social media over the perceived unfairness of requiring a business to recognize same-sex marriage.

Saxe said the religious exemption measures have begun to “pop up with more frequency” before state legislatures in the wake of media coverage of these incidents.

“I think those stories are part of the justification,” Saxe said. “In both South Dakota and Kansas, we saw the supporters of this legislation saying that this was about protecting the rights of businesses to not provide wedding services, but then the bills themselves…said any person could refuse to respect any marriage, which is not all about wedding services.”

The majority of the American public opposes making exemptions to accommodate these situations. According to a poll last year conducted by the Human Rights Campaign and the Third Way, 67 percent of voters are opposed to laws that allow businesses to discriminate against gay couples based on religious objections. Further, 56 percent of respondents thought it was already illegal for business owners in their state to refuse service to someone for being gay, although 30 percent were wrong because no such law exists in their state.

It’s also possible that the U.S. Supreme Court could take up a case related to one such isolated objection to a same-sex wedding and issue a sweeping decision enabling discrimination against same-sex couples.

Pending before the U.S. Supreme Court is the appeal of a decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court in the case of Elaine Photography v. Vanessa Willock, which found that the husband-and-wife owned photography business violated New Mexico’s civil rights law by declining to shoot Willock’s commitment ceremony in 2006, even though it was over religious beliefs. (Same-sex marriage at the time wasn’t yet legal in New Mexico.)

Anti-gay groups late last year filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on the basis that the New Mexico court decision violated Elaine Photography’s rights under the First Amendment’s ban on compelled speech.

Jon Davidson, legal director at Lambda Legal, said he thinks it’s “less likely” the court will take up the case because petitioners asked for a review of rejection of the photographer’s “compelled speech”and not free exercise of religion.

“Given this narrowing of the issue presented, I think it is somewhat less likely that the Supreme Court will grant review, because the issue presented affects fewer people and entities than a religious freedom claim would,” Davidson said.

Although it’s hard to say what action the Supreme Court will take, it may issue writ of certiorari to take up the case this year. If so, a decision would be expected before the court adjourns in June.

13
Feb
2014

Cartoon: CPAC Unity 2014

CPAC, Republican Party, John McCain, Chris Christie, Illeana Ros-Lehtenin, Tony Perkins, John Boehner, Rush Limbaugh

It’s a tug-of-war in the Republican Party. (Washington Blade cartoon by Ranslem)

04
Mar
2014

ADL slaps FRC for saying gays would send Christians to death camps

FRC's Tony Perkins: "When are they going to start rolling out the boxcars to start hauling off Christians?”

.
11
Jun
2014

Same-sex marriage opponents blast DOMA, Prop 8 decisions

Harry Jackson, Hope Christian Church, gay news, Washington Blade

Bishop Harry Jackson is among those same-sex marriage opponents who criticized the Supreme Court for ruling against DOMA and Proposition 8 (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Same-sex marriage opponents on Wednesday blasted the U.S. Supreme Court after it struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8.

Concerned Women for America President Penny Nance described the two rulings as “the Roe v. Wade of marriage,” referring to the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion in the country.

“While the justices sit in their high chairs, these decisions will have very real-life consequences for American families, especially as it relates to our religious liberties,” she said. “Those who hold a Biblical view of marriage can expect much persecution from the government in the years to come.”

Fox News Radio host Todd Starnes tweeted “Supreme Court overrules God” after the justices announced their decisions. He added it “won’t be long before they (the justices) outlaw the Bible as hate speech.

Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church of Beltsville, Md., also took to social media to criticize the DOMA decision.

“Laws cannot be enforced; justice is always the loser,” he tweeted. “Criminals crowd out honest people and twist the laws around.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops categorized the rulings as “a tragic day for marriage and our nation.

“The Supreme Court has dealt a profound injustice to the American people by striking down in part the federal Defense of Marriage Act,” the group, of which New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan is the president, said.

The group is among those who joined National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown; Ruth Institute President Jennifer Roback Morse; American Values President Gary Bauer; New York State Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr.; and Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition and others at an anti-gay marriage rally on the National Mall in March after the justices heard oral arguments in the Prop 8 case.

“By striking down the federal definition of marriage in DOMA, the court is asserting that Congress does not have the power to define the meaning of words in statutes Congress itself has enacted,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said. “This is absurd.”

Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who unsuccessfully sought to place a proposed constitutional amendment on her state’s 2004 ballot that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman, is among the members of Congress who criticized the Supreme Court’s rulings.

“Marriage was created by the hand of God,” she said. “No man, not even a Supreme Court, can undo what a holy God has instituted.”

“It’s pretty hard to believe that the Supreme Court would say that the 85 Senators, 342 members of the House of Representatives, and Democrat President Bill Clinton – all who supported DOMA when it was signed into law nearly 20 years ago – voted for DOMA literally seeking to injure and impose stigma on gay individuals,” U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) added. “That may be the perception of five Justices, but it is simply not true. I’ve always felt that marriage was an issue best left up to each state, and that’s essentially what the Court ruled today. But this ruling is a disappointment because instead of allowing the American people and their elected representatives to continue the debate about same-sex marriage, the Court instead used its own personal opinion to tip the balance.”

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who on Tuesday petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court’s ruling earlier this year that struck down the commonwealth’s anti-sodomy law, said in a statement the state “has followed the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman for more than 400 years.” He also noted Virginians in 2006 approved a constitutional amendment that banned nuptials for gays and lesbians.

Cuccinelli, who is also running for governor against former Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe, who supports same-sex marriage, added he feels the Prop 8 and DOMA decisions will have no impact in Virginia.

“The court’s two decisions on marriage make clear that the rulings have no effect on the Virginia Marriage Amendment or to any other Virginia law related to marriage,” Cuccinelli said.

26
Jun
2013

Groups link Utah polygamy ruling to gay marriage

Tony Perkins, FRC, gay news, Washington Blade, polygamy

FRC President Tony Perkins says the legalization of same-sex marriage will lead to legalized polygamy. (Washington Blade file photo by Lee Whitman)

Two of the nation’s leading anti-LGBT groups — the National Organization for Marriage and the Family Research Council — said a decision by a federal judge in Utah last week overturning part of the state’s law banning polygamy was made possible by earlier court rulings supportive of same-sex marriage.

An official with the marriage equality group Freedom to Marry disputed that assertion, saying the Utah ruling was limited to the right of people to choose personal living arrangements unrelated to marriage.

But statements by NOM and FRC linking the Utah ruling to same-sex marriage were reported widely in the media, with cable news outlets inviting FRC President Tony Perkins to appear on news programs to express his views on the issue.

Judge Clark Waddoups of the U.S. District Court of Utah ruled on Dec. 13 that a section of Utah’s anti-polygamy law that prohibits “cohabitation” violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion as well as the Constitution’s due process clause.

Waddoups’ ruling left in place the anti-polygamy law’s provisions prohibiting someone from obtaining two or more valid marriage licenses to marry more than one person.

In a statement released by the National Organization for Marriage, the group’s president, Brian Brown, called Waddoups’ ruling the first step in an effort by polygamists to bring a test case to the Supreme Court to obtain legal recognition of “plural” marriages.

“There’s no doubt that the arguments for same-sex marriage were a template for this case,” Brown said. “People in polygamist, plural marriages are just a short step away from winning official marriage rights. Adult incest practitioners will have similar claims, as will adult siblings and other close relations,” he said.

“This decision is the next step along the path blazed by same-sex marriage advocates who have convinced federal judges to transform the societal norm of marriage as the union of one man and one woman designed primarily for the benefit of any children produced of their union into an institution that recognizes intimate, romantic relationships between consenting adults,” Brown said.

Evan Wolfson, founder and president of the same-sex marriage advocacy group Freedom to Marry, said Brown’s interpretation of Waddoups’ ruling was incorrect.

“Contrary to yet another predictable breathless rush to misrepresent from NOM and its anti-gay ilk, this decision is no more about marriage than NOM is,” Wolfson told the Blade in an email.

“It’s about cohabitation, that is, whom you may choose to live with,” he said. “As anyone reading the judge’s ruling can see, the decision leaves intact other prohibitions on bigamy, polygamy, and fraud. Instead it’s about choices people make about living together, not marrying.”

Wolfson added, “Do the NOM/FRC crowd really believe that in a free country the government should be dictating to Americans – married or otherwise, religious or otherwise – whom they may even live with?”

The challenge to the Utah polygamy law stems from a lawsuit filed by Kody Brown, the lead figure in the reality television show “Sister Wives,” in which Brown stars with people he identifies as his four wives and 17 children.

Brown and his family are members of the Apostolic Brethren Church, a breakaway sect from the Mormon Church whose members embrace polygamy as part of their religious beliefs. The Mormon Church ended its support for polygamy in the 1890s when Congress required the then territory of Utah to prohibit polygamy as a condition for becoming a state.

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley represents the Brown family in connection with their lawsuit. He argued before the court that the provision of the Utah polygamy law prohibiting cohabitation violated the family’s right to privacy and religious freedom.

17
Dec
2013

Defense bill contains gay-related provisions

United States Capitol Building, dome, gay news, Washington Blade

The defense authorization passed by Congress includes gay-related provisions. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Congress passed major defense budget legislation on Thursday that includes provisions related to the LGBT community — both good and bad — in the aftermath of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The fiscal year 2014 defense authorization bill contains an expansion of the conscience protections for service members under current law, but also repeals the sodomy ban under military law and calls for a report on HIV policy within the U.S. military.

The Senate approved late Thursday by a vote of 84-15 a $630 billion version of the bill, which primarily reauthorizes pay for troops and funding for military programs. The House already approved the legislation, so it’s heading to President Obama’s desk.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the retiring chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, issued a statement upon passage of the legislation praising the bipartisan nature of its approval.

“Tonight we passed legislation that is good for our national security, and for the men and women who protect us and their families,” Levin said. “The Senate vote is a strong bipartisan statement that, despite our differences, we can come together and accomplish important business for the good of the country.”

Under Section 532, the legislation contains an expansion of the conscience provision that was enacted as part of last year’s defense authorization bill. Under this provision, the armed services shall accommodate service members’ expression of their beliefs — unless it would have an adverse impact on military readiness or good order and discipline.

The language was inserted by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) during the Senate Armed Services Committee markup of the fiscal year 2014 defense authorization. It’s along the lines of a conscience amendment submitted by Rep. Mike Fleming (R-La.) during the House Armed Services Committee markup of its version of the bill, but not quite as strong. LGBT advocates decried the House version of the amendment as a means to enable service members to discriminate and harass their gay colleagues.

A related provision, Section 533, instructs the Inspector General of the Department of Defense to submit a report to Congress no longer than 18 months after the bill is signed into law on incidents of adverse personnel actions or discrimination against troops based on their moral beliefs.

Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay Family Research Council, praised Congress in a statement over inclusion of the provision, which he said is a means for “protecting the right of service members to freely practice and express their faith.”

“Congress acted appropriately after investigating numerous incidents involving service members who have had their careers threatened, and harassed simply for practicing their faith in a real and tangible way,” Perkins said. “The religious liberty violations have grown so frequent in recent years leading many service members to report being too fearful to share their faith.”

After the enactment of the earlier conscience provision under the previous defense authorization bill, Obama said the Pentagon assured him the language wouldn’t change how the armed forces operated. The Defense Department didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on how implementation will work this time around.

Ian Thompson, legislative representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the inclusion of the conscience provision in the defense authorization bill was unnecessary.

“The ACLU believes that the Constitution and existing laws and regulations already offer all members of the Armed Forces, including chaplains, strong protections for their religious beliefs,” Thompson said.

Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president of communications, expressed a similar sentiment that the provision is unnecessary because service members’ religious views are already protected under current policy.

“Although this amendment is unnecessary, Congress dropped a different version adopted by the House of Representatives that would have been truly harmful, requiring the military to accommodate beliefs, actions, and speech of service members unless the armed forces could prove ‘actual harm’ to good order and discipline,” Sainz said.

But the legislation as a whole also contains positive language sought by LGBT advocates in the aftermath of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. Among these provisions is Section 1707 — repeal of the ban on sodomy for gay and straight service members under Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The provision was added by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.).

In its place, the legislation inserts into military code a provision making “unnatural carnal copulation” with another person “by force” subject to a court martial. The provision also reasserts the ban on bestiality in military code.

Although the sodomy ban was rarely enforced for service members engaging in consensual sex in private, it has remained on the books and been used to prosecute troops in combination with additional infractions.

ACLU’s Thompson said the repeal of the sodomy ban is an important step forward to guarantee the liberty of service members — gay and straight — in the aftermath of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“This is a welcome and overdue step forward that respects the liberty and privacy of all service members, and is especially significant for gay and lesbian service members whose intimate relationships, including marriages, were labeled a violation of military criminal law,” Thompson said. “Removing this stigmatizing and discriminatory provision from the Uniform Code of Military Justice advances the promise of equal treatment for all military personnel.”

Additionally, under Section 572, the legislation directs the Pentagon to submit a report to Congress no later than 180 days after the bill is signed into law on personnel policies regarding service members with HIV or Hepatitis B.  The bill directs the Pentagon to include a description of the policies as well as related retention, deployment and disciplinary actions as well as an assessment of whether these policies are evidence-based and medically accurate.

According to the LGBT military group SPART*A, service members become non-deployable once they’re discovered to have HIV; can’t commission as an officer or warrant officer; can’t fly aircraft or work in any jobs requiring a flight physical; are restricted to stateside duty assignments (with the exception of the Navy); and are not eligible for special schools such as Ranger, Special Forces or other special ops jobs.

Thompson said the provision is welcome because it will examine whether the military’s current HIV policy is appropriate or outdated.

“This review is welcome and overdue becausemany of our laws, policies, and regulations regarding HIV were written at a time when we knew far less about the routes and risks of HIV transmission, and prior to the development of effective HIV treatment,” Thompson said.

Another important non-LGBT provision in the defense authorization bill replaces foreign transfer restrictions in  current law to enable President Obama to close the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. The bill also seeks to aid victims of sexual assault in the military by criminalizing retaliation against victims who report it,  preventing military commanders from overturning jury convictions and protecting victims of sexual assault from abusive treatment during pre-trial proceedings.

The LGBT group Freedom to Work had said insertion of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act into the defense authorization bill could be a viable way to pass the measure. However, prior to ENDA’s passage in the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told the Washington Blade such inclusion wasn’t a viable option because he didn’t know if the larger defense bill would pass.

On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney issued a statement saying the administration has concerns with certain aspects of the legislation, but supports it overall.

“Although the bill includes a number of provisions that restrict or limit the Defense Department’s ability to align military capabilities and force structure with the President’s strategy and implement certain efficiencies, overall the Administration is pleased with the modifications and improvements contained in the bill that address most of the Administration’s significant objections with earlier versions regarding these issues,” Carney said. “The Administration supports passage of the legislation.”

20
Dec
2013

Mixed reaction to Boy Scouts plan on gay members

Zach Walls, gay news, Washington Blade, Boy Scouts of America

‘This would be an incredible step forward in the right direction,’ said Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout and founder of the group Scouts for Equality. (Photo courtesy of Change.org)

A statement issued by the Boy Scouts of America on Monday saying the organization is considering dropping its national policy banning gay scouts and scout leaders was hailed by LGBT advocates as an important breakthrough in the fight for equality.

But two of the nation’s leading anti-gay groups warned that if the BSA’s board votes next week to drop its ban on gays, as predicted by sources familiar with the Boy Scouts, it would lead to a “mass exodus” of scouts and scout leaders from traditional, religious-oriented families and communities.

In its statement released on Monday, the BSA said the change it was considering would allow the religious, civic and educational organizations that are chartered to operate scouting units throughout the country to make the final decision on whether or not to accept gays.

“Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation,” the statement says.

“This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs,” says the statement.

“BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families,” it says.

NBC News, which first reported that BSA was considering lifting its gay ban prior to the release of the statement, also reported that the organization was expected to approve the changes at a board of directors meeting within the next week.

Janelle Moritz, a public relations representative for the Boy Scouts of America, told the Blade she could not confirm the NBC report about the timing of a board meeting or what the board would decide. She said BSA would not comment on the matter beyond what it said in its statement, which doesn’t say when the group will decide on the issue.

Other news media outlets, however, reported that BSA sources confirmed that the board meeting would take place next week, mostly likely at the BSA national headquarters in Irving, Texas.

“The Boy Scouts of America have heard from scouts, corporations, and millions of Americans that discriminating against gay scouts and scout leaders is wrong,” said Herndon Graddick, president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. “Scouting is a valuable institution and this change will only strengthen its core principles of fairness and respect,” he said.

“This would be an incredible step forward in the right direction,” said Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout and founder of the group Scouts for Equality. “We look forward to working with BSA Councils and chartering organizations across the country to end the exclusion of our gay brothers in scouting, as well as the gay and lesbian leaders who serve the organizations so well.”

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the Boy Scouts’ expected policy change follows the growing support for LGBT equality from the American people.

“The pulse of equality is strong in America, and today it beats a bit faster with news that the Boy Scouts may finally put an end to its long history of discrimination,” Griffin said in a statement. “Our nation and its leaders respect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens, and it’s time the Boy Scouts echo those values.”

A far different response emerged from leaders of the Family Research Council and the American Family Association, two national conservative groups that oppose LGBT rights.

“The Boy Scouts of America board would be making a serious mistake to bow to the strong-arm tactics of LGBT activists and open the organization to homosexuality,” said FRC President Tony Perkins in a statement.

“The mission of the Boy Scouts is to ‘instill values in young people’ and ‘prepare them to make ethical choices,’ and the Scouts’ oath includes a pledge ‘to do my duty to God’ and keep himself ‘morally straight,” he said. “It is entirely reasonable and not at all unusual for those passages to be interpreted as requiring abstinence from homosexual conduct.”

The American Family Associated posted on its website a column by anti-gay advocate Bryan Fischer, who quipped that Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant coach convicted on child molestation charges, would become “the new poster boy” for the Boy Scouts.

“This move, unless the BSA dramatically reverses itself in the immediate future, represents the capitulation to the forces of sexual deviancy,” he said. “The Scouts will have made a deliberate decision to put the sexual integrity of every young man in their care at risk.”

Within a day of the BSA’s announcement that it was considering changing its policy on gay scouts and scout leaders, the FRC and the American Family Association posted appeals on their websites urging members and supporters to call the BSA to urge the group to leave its ban on gays in place.

“As the BSA board meets next week, it is crucial that they hear from those who stand with them and their current policy regarding homosexuality,” FRC said.

Possibly in anticipation of strong opposition by conservative and religious groups, the BSA emphasized in its own statement that the change would allow local units to decide whether or not to admit gays.

“The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a policy to units, members, or parents,” the statement says. “Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles or religious beliefs.”

The BSA website says more than 100,000 scouting units are owned and operated by independent chartered organizations.

“Of these, 64.9 percent of all units are chartered to faith-based organizations, 22.7 percent of all units are chartered to civic organizations, and 7.9 percent of all units are chartered to educational organizations,” it says.

It says the chartered organizations are responsible for providing meeting facilities, providing “quality leadership for the scouting unit,” and appointing a representative to coordinate unit operations

A list of BSA chartered organizations posted on its website shows a wide range of religious and civic groups that are likely to differ on whether or not to admit gay scouts and scout leaders.

Among them are the Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and “Baptist Churches,” which traditionally have condemned homosexuality. Others, however, include the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, United Methodist Church and Lutheran churches, which have had more accepting policies toward LGBT people.

Civic groups listed on the BSA website as chartered organizations include local Chambers of Commerce, Lions and Rotary clubs, American Legion organizations, Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, YMCA groups, “non-profit agencies,” and “home owners” groups.

The BSA’s statement saying it is considering removing its national policy banning gay scouts and scout leaders comes seven months after the BSA announced it had conducted a two-year review of the ban and decided to leave it in place.

Monday’s announcement also comes after several prominent corporations, including United Parcel Service and Intel Corporation, withdrew as BSA financial sponsors, saying the gay ban violated their corporate polices of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Others opposing the Boy Scouts ban on gays have organized online petition drives that have gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures calling on the BSA to drop its gay ban.

Among those drawing attention to efforts to end the ban is Eagle Scout Wahls of Iowa, who is straight but has spoken publically about his two lesbian moms.

Sharon Brackett, co-founder and board chair of the statewide transgender advocacy organization Gender Rights Maryland, said she experienced firsthand how at least some Boy Scout troops and the chartered organizations that operate them are LGBT supportive.

Brackett said she served as a scout master for the local Boy Scout troop in Savage, Md., where her sons were members, before she transitioned from male to female. She said after taking a break during her transition period, the troop and a local Methodist church that served as the chartered organization, welcomed her back once she completed her gender transition.

“My experience has been positive,” she said, noting that women have long served as Boy Scout troop leaders and officials in the chartered organization covering her area had no problem with her coming back.

Brackett said she supports the proposed change by the BSA to leave it up to the chartered organizations to decide whether gay scouts or troops can be admitted. At least in Maryland, she said, there are enough local troops and chartered organizations to choose from that would result in gay youth finding one that will be welcoming.

“Having that choice is the best next step for us at this time,” she said.

30
Jan
2013

Family Research Council shooter pleads guilty

A Herndon, Va., man arrested last August for shooting an unarmed security guard in the lobby of the anti-gay Family Research Council headquarters in downtown Washington pleaded guilty on Wednesday to three felony charges, including the charge of committing an act of terrorism while armed.

Floyd Lee Corkins II, 28, who has been held in jail since his arrest last August, signed a charging document before appearing in court on Wednesday confirming that he intended to commit a mass killing at the FRC building, a federal prosecutor said in court.

“[C]orkins targeted the Family Research Council because of its political views, including its advocacy against recognition of gay marriage,” according to a statement released Wednesday by the U.S. Attorney’s office.

“He entered the building with the intention of shooting and killing as many employees of the organization as he could,” the statement says.

The wounded security guard has been credited by D.C. police and the FBI with saving the lives of FRC employees working on the building’s upper floors by wrestling Corkins to the floor and taking away the semi-automatic handgun Corkins wielded while attempting to gain access to the elevator.

The guard suffered a gunshot wound to the arm and has undergone several rounds of surgery in connection with the injury.

In addition to the terrorism charge, Corkins pleaded guilty to charges of assault with intent to kill while armed and interstate transportation of a firearm and ammunition. He faces a potential maximum sentence of 70 years in prison.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard W. Roberts scheduled a sentencing hearing for April 29.

Corkins, who worked for a short time as a volunteer at D.C.’s LGBT Community Center in 2011, has not disclosed his sexual orientation.

In new information released this week, the U.S. Attorney’s office said police and FBI agents investigating the case found a handwritten list on Corkins’ possession containing the names of the Family Research Council and “three other organizations that openly identify themselves as having socially conservative agenda.” The U.S. Attorney’s office didn’t identify the other organizations, saying only that Corkins intended to target them had he succeeded in his planned shooting at the FRC.

Prosecutors also disclosed for the first time that Corkins returned to a gun store in Virginia where he purchased the gun on the night before he arrived at the FRC building and engaged in shooting practice.

Authorities previously disclosed that they had discovered in Corkins’ backpack a box of 50 rounds of 9 mm ammunition and 15 individually wrapped sandwiches he bought the previous day from Chik-fil-A.

FBI unit at Family Research Council headquarters, gay news, Washington Blade

Floyd Lee Corkins II was accused of shooting a security guard inside the Family Research Council’s headquarters building in August. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In the statement released on Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney’s office disclosed that Corkins told FBI agents interviewing him after his arrest that he planned to “smother the Chick-fil-A sandwiches” into the faces of the FRC employees he intended to shoot.

In a separate court filing last week, prosecutors disclosed that they searched of Corkins’ family computer at the Herndon home where he lived with his parents. The computer search showed that he apparently obtained the list of socially conservative groups he planned to target, including the FRC, from the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

SPLC has listed FRC as a hate group based, among other things, on its portrayal of homosexuality and gay people as being associated with pedophilia.

In a statement released on Wednesday, FRC President Tony Perkins reiterated his earlier assertion that Southern Poverty Law Center was responsible for creating a climate that led to someone like Corkins seeking to commit violence.

“[I] stated that while Corkins was responsible for the shooting, he had been given a license to perpetrate this act of violence by groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center which has systematically and recklessly labeled every organization with which they disagree as a ‘hate group,’” Perkins said.

Southern Poverty Law Center officials have denounced Perkins for misrepresenting their position, saying they never label an organization as a hate group based on political views or public policy positions. SPLC officials have said they list FRC as a hate group for what they say are its false and defamatory claims linking homosexuality and LGBT people to pedophilia.

07
Feb
2013

GOProud members take part in anti-abortion march

Holly Parker, GOProud, abortion, gay news, Washington Blade

GOProud staffer Holly Parker stands outside the Archives Metro station in D.C. on Friday in support of the March for Life. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A group of gay conservatives were among those who took part in the annual March for Life in D.C. on Friday.

GOProud members handed out red and white stickers to passersby at the Archives Metro station on Pennsylvania Avenue that read “Hello, I’m… pro life & pro gay” before attending a rally on the National Mall in opposition of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

They then proceeded to march to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“So many in the media when they talk about social issues, they talk about gay marriage and abortion as if it’s one thing. And the common portrayal is pro-life people are anti-gay for some reason,” GOProud Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia told the Washington Blade as he and a handful of others stood outside the Metro station before the rally. “We know that that’s not true; that your position on issues affecting gay people has nothing to do with your position on abortion. Also it gives us a chance to demonstrate for our pro-life people a common ground with other pro-life people who are here who may not be used to seeing gay people talking about this issue.”

LaSalvia, who pointed out GOProud does not have a position on abortion, stressed he is pro-life.

“Everybody has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” LaSalvia said. “I think that means gay people and unborn people too.”

GOProud member Holly Parker noted to the Blade that her younger sister is adopted and she has “multiple friends who have had abortions and have come to regret it.”

“I’m just out here for them and for my fighting for pro-life,” Parker said.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Tennessee Congresswoman Diane Black, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley are among those who spoke during the rally that drew hundreds of thousands of people to the Mall. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) addressed participants via a pre-recorded video message.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sponsored an all-night prayer vigil before the March for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast D.C.

“I’ve got to stand up for what I am and not for what people want me to be,” gay D.C. resident Michael Jones told the Blade as he stood outside the Archives Metro station. “I’ve got to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves, like the unborn children.”

28
Jan
2013

Year in review: Blade publishes names of petition signers

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Washington Blade’s decision to publish the names of the more than 100,000 Marylanders who signed the petition that prompted the state’s same-sex marriage referendum sparked outrage among opponents of nuptials for gays and lesbians.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins described this newspaper’s decision to publish the names of those who signed the petition as “nothing short of intimidation.” Matt Barber, vice president of Liberty Action Counsel, accused the Blade of “homo terrorism.” The Blade also received threatening phone calls and e-mails after it published the names on its website on July 12.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley told the Blade last month when asked about the controversy that he didn’t know whether “I’m qualified to comment on journalistic ethics.” Transgender activist Dana Beyer also questioned the Blade’s decision to publish the names of those who signed the petition that were publicly available on July 12, but gay columnist Andrew Sullivan defended the Blade.

“Some argue that this is a tool for intimidation or a violation of privacy,” he wrote. “I’m afraid I cannot see that. Signing a political petition is a public act. If you are ashamed of trying to deny your fellow citizens their civil rights, you probably shouldn’t have signed the petition in the first place.”

Opponents of the same-sex marriage law eventually collected more than 160,000 signatures that prompted a Nov. 6 referendum on the issue. Maryland voters upheld the statute that O’Malley signed in March by a 52-48 percent margin.

27
Dec
2012